Kelly’s Rules for AWP

It’s that time again–the once-yearly migration of writers to an unsuspecting city, where we’ll read, argue, pitch, and schmooze for four days, leaving a stunned and confused local population to sort out what’s just happened. Yep–it’s time for AWP. Last year’s Denver conference was my first, and I made some notes about the AWP conference experience here at my blog. But as I prepare to head off into the sleet and snow for this year’s D.C. event, I’ve realized the “rules” for AWP can be boiled down into a few general guidelines:

Be nice. Show a little awareness of other people. That woman you shoved out of the way in trying to get through the bookfair may be the editor you’ve been hoping would read your work. The guy whose outfit you made fun of so loudly might be a publisher who has your manuscript on his desk. Publishing is a small world, and it doesn’t behove anyone to alienate potential friends and allies. Act as though all the people you meet are somehow important to your career, because they may well be. And please, don’t be the person with the 30-minute long “question,” which is usually more of a tiny speech, to raise during Q&A at any given panel.  Holding forth in a forum that is not yours does not make you look too bright.

Be a literary citizen. If you want to get published, be a citizen of the literary community. Buy books from publishers. Subscribe to literary magazines. Budget out some cash for the bookfair, and put your money where your literary aspirations are. Without subscribers, presses and journals fold. If you’re a writer who wants to publish, it’s in your best interest to support the places that support new writing.

Be aware of publishing realities. As a writer, I know there’s a certain tendency to look at editors and publishers as though they’re literary gatekeepers. Sometimes, the strings of rejections we poets and writers receive make it feel as though editors are a coterie of bad-tempered snots, coldly stuffing rejections into the envelopes of any submitters who aren’t already in the “in-crowd.” But as an editor, I know that’s not the case (or, at least, I haven’t ever met such a bad-tempered editorial snot). Editors work hard to bring writers’ work to the public’s attention, and if we’re gatekeepers, it’s because there’s so little room in our pages, and so little money to print those pages, that we simply can’t take all the good work that comes to us. (I calculated our poetry acceptance rates for LAR last week, and in Issue 9, we could only take  0.5% of submissions.) It’s not because we’re cold. So please–no tiny speeches about how many times an editor rejected you. It only makes conversations awkward, and leaves a lasting, smelly impression. But if you’re still quite miffed about gatekeepers, then you’re free to make your own gate! Found a journal. Start a press. It’s not easy, but if you feel there’s a market for the type of work you want to print, then there’s room at the literary roundtable.

Behave. Bad behavior isn’t part of anyone’s artistic license. If people need to get falling-down drunk or cheat on their significant other while at the conference, it isn’t because they’re writers, or because this is what writers do. Consider behaving yourself within the bounds of good taste, or at least try to do your misbehaving privately (so the rest of the conference attendees don’t have to watch).

And, of course, be cool enough to visit table G-12, home of LAR for the duration of the conference. Sorry. I couldn’t help but put in at least one shameless plug.


See you in D.C., writers!

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